From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Dams in Uttarakhand
Mains level : Risks posed by Hydel projects
The flash flood that claimed several lives in Chamoli has caused Uttarakhand’s hydroelectric projects (HEPs) to be scrutinized closely.
Q.How do hydropower projects pose geological and topographical threats to the ecosystem? (150W)
Why Hydropower in Uttarakhand?
- Uttarakhand has a tricky relationship with electricity.
- With a landscape that’s inhospitable to thermal power grid lines and with people too poor to pay for electricity, micro and mini hydro-electric power projects were seen as the answer.
- Between the government’s long-standing ‘power for all’ objective, and environmentalists pushing for a cleaner, renewable energy, setting up dozens of hydel power plants seemed ideal.
Impacts of HEPs
Limitless quarrying, deforestation, stopping the flow of rivers, and mushrooming of hydropower projects have made the Himalayas unstable.
- Existing and under-construction hydro-power projects in Uttarakhand have led to several deleterious environmental impacts (Char Dham Committee).
- Among the significant impacts are on the river ecosystem, forest and terrestrial biodiversity, geological environment and social infrastructure.
- More than seven years later, some experts believe that over-exploitation of rivers and rampant damming for hydroelectric projects (HEPs) could be one of the big factors responsible for the Chamoli disaster.
- The ‘river-bed profile’ across the major HEPs of Uttarakhand has changed significantly, suggesting the possibility of disasters in future.
The Kedarnath floods
- Between June 13 and 17, 2013, Uttarakhand had received an unusual amount of rainfall.
- This led to the melting of the Chorabari glacier and the eruption of the Mandakini river.
- The floods affected large parts of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Western Nepal.
- The heavy rainfall caused massive flash floods and landslides resulting in the death of residents and tourists as well as extensive damage to property.
- Over 5,000 people were killed in the floods
Construction still persists
- Neglecting all warnings of the experts, rampant construction was carried out in the sensitive zones even after the 2013 Kedarnath deluge.
- Notably, two dozen hydropower plants of Uttarakhand were rejected by the Supreme Court after the expert panel report.
HEPs in Uttarakhand
The rivers and basins in the state are dotted with 43 micro hydel projects. Some of them are:
Alarms have been raised earlier
- The Kedarnath expert committee had warned about the excessive exploitation of vulnerable regions and the need to re-study and re-evaluate the HEPs of Uttarakhand.
- The report also objected to HEPs at an altitude of over 2000 metres.
- The report pointed out that the potential threat of landslide, cloudburst, subsidence, flash floods has increased tremendously in the past few years and many critical zones need immediate attention.
- The study also mentioned that a lot of anthropogenic pressure due to different activities related to HEPs was alarming and needed checks.